This is part of a series introducing you to interesting people in the wine industry. For many, the journey into wine is not only intriguing but often quite an adventure. These talented individuals are what make the wine industry what it is today so follow this series to meet this group of passionate people who have dedicated their lives to wine.
Why Wine? An interview with Spencer Spetnagel of Durant Vineyards
Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?
Spencer Spetnagel: I fell in love with wine while waiting tables in fine dining in Atlanta. The first wine that showed me this was the industry I wanted to pursue was a 1991 Joseph Phelps Insignia.
What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?
SS: My undergrad was in Marketing from Kennesaw State University. I was waiting tables in fine dining which gave me my first glimpse of what wine can be. I went straight from the restaurant industry to the cellar at Ravenswood for my first Harvest in 2004. From Atlanta to Sonoma.
How has being in the wine industry changed you?
SS: I like to think that the wine industry has not changed me too much. I’ve always enjoyed the rewards of hard physical labor. I may be more aware of the seasons now, but I have always been a very outdoors oriented person. That is one of the main reasons I got into the industry, to be able to work closely and in conjunction with Mother Nature.
It has given me an appreciation for all the back-breaking labor that goes into every bottle. No matter how fantastic and earth-shattering a wine is, it is still just an agricultural product. Wine is only as good as the grapes it is made from.
Winemakers are glorified babysitters. The best wine is made when you need to do the least amount of work possible to it. I’ve definitely learned that it is not nearly as glamorous as we believe it to be in the service industry. My blood, sweat and tears end up in every bottle.
What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?
SS: My favorite part of being in the wine industry is to know that I can make people smile who I never get the pleasure of meeting. To make a bottle of wine that is enjoyed at a special occasion that ends up enhancing that occasion with more fond memories is what I strive for. Even to make a Tuesday evening memorable just because of the wine that is opened to go with dinner is what makes this industry such a fascinating industry for me.
The cohesive and collaborative nature of this industry between winemakers and vineyard managers also makes this a great industry and is a very close second favorite part. Everyone is continually learning and just trying to pass on the knowledge of their experiences. It’s a very supportive and rewarding industry to be a part of.
Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?
SS: Besides my direct interaction with wine in the service industry, I’d probably have to say my parents deserve credit. Wine was not something that was at our dinner table every night, but it was talked about with reverence. They also instilled in me the fact that I should find something that I love doing, because so few find work that they are truly passionate about. They gave me the foundation of realizing hard work is something to be embraced, not shunned.
It all clicked as I got more and more into wine at my restaurants. The more winemakers and grape growers that I had the pleasure of meeting I realized that it was an extremely down to earth industry. The more I found out about wine the further down the rabbit hole I immersed myself.
As soon as I set foot in the cellar for my first vintage I knew I had truly found a passion that would easily occupy me for a lifetime. There was something about the 12-hour shifts and extremely difficult physical labor that drove the passion in me even further. My mom tells me that I’ve done everything on my own, but I would not have the work ethic that I possess if it was not for my parents shaping the person that I am by leading by example. So, to Mom and Dad I give all the credit for every success I have ever had in life. I only hope to continue to make them proud. I’m certainly proud to call them my parents.